Posted by Joshua on Sunday, September 4th, 2011
Ehsani has gathered together his commentary published on Syria Comment over the last five years. I asked him to do this because his articles constitute a valuable and trenchant critic and analysis of Syria’s economic problems and challenges. The link for each article is published below with a representative quote. [Joshua Landis]
Ehsani on Syria Comment
My first debate in the comment section was a debate with Idaf on February 18, 2006.
“Contrary to what you suggest, were the Baath to fall from power, the country will boom economically. The standards of living pale in comparison to others around, and certainly relative to where they should be. Market based economics is a prerequisite for economic prosperity. The Baath does not want to admit this, though they know it. They are hence incapable of unleashing the potential for this country.”
My first article was written on February 22, 2006. A comparison with Hugo Chavez was made in answer to an anonymous writer who argued that Syria does not need foreign investments.
“Foreign investors decide to invest when they sense that a country has a friendly business environment that will protect capital and offer higher rates of return than elsewhere. Capital is unlikely to head to countries that have a poor legal system, heavy-handed state intervention, corruption, and cronyism. Capital migrates to vibrant market based economies, where property is protected. We need to be part of the global economy. It is going to be hard because we are late. Our education system is woefully inadequate. Our infrastructure is not up to the task. Our labor force does not have the needed skills. But start we must. It is not too late. Syria is on the cusp of being next door to an EU country in the next ten years. This will present enormous opportunities for increased revenues from transit, trade, and tourism. But the competition for capital is going to be intense. If foreign investors agree to invest in Syria, we should thank and receive them with open arms. Chavez may ask them to “go to hell.” Hopefully, the Syrian people are too smart to emulate him.”
I challenged the US’s goal of spreading democracy on April 27, 2006.
“As transparent as the struggle to control these priceless resources, the West and the U.S. in particular, have been ambiguous and not forthright with its people or with the Arab world when it comes to its strategic interests in the region. The U.S. has an enormous thirst for energy. Its economy and society will be crippled were its energy supplies to suffer a major disruption. Any U.S. President that allows this to happen may very well get thrown from office and be impeached. Successive U.S. administrations have tried to rely on the so-called tyrants and kings to help them ensure that the above group of players or others does not succeed in making this happen.The other pillar of the U.S Middle East foreign policy of course concerns the state of Israel. As opaque as the U.S. has been when it comes to the issue of energy, its strategy when it comes to Israel has been extremely transparent.”
On May 26, 2006, I questioned the will and conviction of the Syrian leadership to reform.
“Syrian political reforms are unlikely to take place anytime soon. All calls for political reform is viewed with great suspicion. Pushing for such reforms is seen as a prelude to weakening the grip of regime, which will ultimately lead to its downfall. The regime is unlikely therefore to want to tinker with a survival formula that has served it very well over four decades.”
Mr. Dardari’s remarks on foreign policy and its impact on economic progress were addressed in a post on October 17, 2006.
“Unless the economy creates 480,000 new jobs every year, the ranks of the unemployed will continue to rise. Note that creating this many jobs will not help the already unemployed but only the new job seekers. This is a ticking time bomb that no one wants to confront or address. Most Syrians are apparently proud of their leader for standing up to the west and the great Satan in particular. They choose to ignore the country’s massive economic challenges ahead.”
On April 4, 2007, a warning about state revenues was raised.
“As you recall, I have long held the view that the Syrian economy’s prospects were in a much worse shape than was commonly believed.
On their part, most government officials had followed the unified and consistent theme that there was nothing wrong with the economy. Indeed, all we heard was that investments were soaring and that a 7-8% economic growth was in the offing.”
More on the plight of the Syrian economy also in April of 2007:
“In conclusion, without publishing the data to support their claim, it is very difficult to verify the numbers cited by the country’s economic policy makers. My comment above dealt with some of those potential difficulties. It is my impression that the country’s fiscal predicament is not healthy. It is clear that Dardari thinks that some of the subsidies will have to go. I think that this is inevitable. Politically, however, it is a very difficult thing to implement.”
Why don’t Arab dictators declare themselves kings was the title of another posting in the middle of April 2007
“Of the current 22 members of the Arab League, one can argue that the leaders of 14 have it harder than the other eight. I am referring of course to the form of government that these leaders inherited, usually from their colonial masters. The lucky eight inherited or built monarchies, either quasi-constitutional or absolute.
Life is not as simple for the Presidential Republics.”
On the cusp of President Assad’s second term in office, I reviewed his first 7 years in office.
“On Sunday May 27th, Syria’s young leader will win a new 7-year term as President of his country. The words “will win” are seldom used ahead of Presidential elections. But Syria, like most countries of the Arab World, does not resemble western nations. Presidential elections in the Middle East do not contain even a slight element of surprise. The results are known in advance. The procedures leading to the actual elections have become part of each country’s folklore.”
The next article dealt with the huge income disparity developing. Five undeniable facts were listed:
“Prada men’s shoes – SYP 27,500
Brioni mens pants – SYP 22,000
Iceberg t-shirt – SYP 13,800
Armani dress for ladies – SYP 248,500”
An Economic plan for Syria’s future was offered on June 1, 2008:
“Syria must privatize and start its stock market at the same time. The newly privatized companies will be the first candidates to list on the exchange and
will add much needed liquidity to the market. Money that is now pouring into largely unproductive real estate deals should be directed toward industry. If private capital is allowed to take over state industries, employment will rise and not fall. Profitability and accountability will be restored. Businesses that cannot compete will disappear; those that can will thrive. Resources will be more efficiently employed through the free working of the market place, rather than mis-allocated by the whims of clueless government planners.
Syria’s leadership must embrace a new economic course with urgency. The economic sanctions have not helped but neither have the government’s own policies.
The President himself must take ownership of this critical issue. He must explain to the nation his own economic vision and how he plans to execute it.”
More observations from a trip to Syria were made in August 2008.
“Some readers will take issue with my memo. Many will see it as “too dramatic” and “biased”. I had a lengthy telephone conversation with Dr. Landis before I wrote this note. He is privy to a lot more details than I have written here. My dear friends Ford Prefect and Observer have recently written their own observations of Syria after visiting the country. I realize that they offered a much rosier picture than the one I portray. I hope that I am wrong and that they are both right. My friend Idaf is also sure to take issue with many of my observations as we were both in Aleppo at the same time. Again, I hope that the future proves him correct.”
The issue of corruption was raised by focusing on the duty free business in September 2008.
“Imagine boarding a domestic flight from the city that you happen to live in, walking into the airport’s duty free store and walking out of the airport at your destination without any questions asked. Ramak is effectively competing with the Syrian government itself and wining hands down.”
Alarms on population increases were raised in the comments section and then in a main post in early 2009.
“In the meantime, the demographics in the region are frightening. Syria’s population doubles every 30 years. When 200,000 jobs need to be created a year today to absorb the growing labor force, think of what is come by 2030. This scenario is likely to play out in country after country in the region. Yemen, for example, will be home close to 100 million people over the next forty years based on current demographic trends. Such demographic trends need an urgent response. Regrettably, there is none coming.”
More was written on the Syrian population later in July 2009.
“The country would need to create 420,000 jobs today and 800,000 jobs in the year 2035. The only solution is for real economic growth to exceed 8-9% ASAP………
An article on the public sector that inspired OFF THE WALL to start his blog was written in August 2009.
“The Syrian economy and government services have real ailments that will get worse as the country liberalizes. Big medicine is needed.”
“The 51 point-criticism of Dardari and the so-called economic reform plan is extraordinary in both depth and scope. The reformers are being blamed for everything from high raw material prices to low investments, productivity and economic growth that have left 34% of Syrians (6.8 Million) living below the poverty line, which is 2$ a day. No punches were spared. Even the country’s exchange and interest rates were deemed too high for both exports and investments.
The tone behind the scathing attack is one that identifies with the suffering of the working class — poor workers and farmers — who have seemingly suffered the brunt of the recent economic reforms that are underway.”
Pictures of garbage overwhelming cities like Aleppo.
“Syria’s big cities are facing an onslaught from the surrounding countryside. Their populations are growing even faster than the national rate as a result. Unless something is done, these amazingly historical cities face further decay if not ruin.”
I published an article on Syria’s low wages following a discussion of the high salaries offered to bankers on October of 2010.
“I am fully aware that my support for the reform process is not shared by a significant number of Syrians. This is not surprising. Change will produce new winners and losers. In this short essay, I will first list the winners and losers of the socialist era. I will then explain how the reform process has caught most Syrians off guard and unprepared for the changes that they must face. The failure of many Syrians to understand what needs to be fixed in order to assure the next generation a better life is causing many to blame the reform process and the private sector for the growing poverty and income disparity in our country. It has also brought growing anger at those leading and benefiting from the change.”
A plea to the leadership and the opposition to think about economics was discussed in July of 2012.
“The Syrian people deserve a vigorous debate over their future economic policy. As Egypt has found out, regime change does not automatically put food on the table, just as it does not magically create jobs or lift standards of living. Both the Syrian leadership and those in the opposition need to articulate a realistic, decisive and effective economic policy that inspires the 23 million Syrians who must dream of a brighter future for their kids. The time for a national dialogue on the economy is now. The leadership must lead the charge and offer the country a progressive, bold and inspiring new path forward.”